VATICAN CITY, March 13 (UPI) -- Pope Francis announced the first extraordinary jubilee since 1983, a pilgrimage that could bring much-needed tourist dollars to Italy's stagnant economy.
Francis made the announcement Friday during a homily at St. Peter's Basilica.
"Dear brothers and sisters, I have thought about how the Church can make clear its mission of being a witness of mercy," he said. "It's a journey that starts with a spiritual conversion. For this reason I have decided to declare an extraordinary jubilee that has the mercy of God at its center. It will be a holy year of mercy."
Since 1300, the Catholic church has held a holy year every 50 years and since 1475, an ordinary jubilee was held every 25 years to ensure each generation can experience at least one in a lifetime.
Popes have the ability to call for an extraordinary jubilee at a date of their choosing. The last extraordinary jubilee was held in 1983 when Pope John Paul II called one to celebrate 1950 years of redemption. The last ordinary jubilee was in 2000.
Jubilee years invite Catholics to travel to the Vatican to receive forgiveness for sins.
Previous holy years have brought an influx of tourists to Italy. There was a 12.7 percent increase in visitors from 1999 to 2000 during the last ordinary jubilee, which should translate into a significant influx of tourist dollars.
That should be welcome news for Italy's economy.
In the fourth quarter of 2014, Italy's Gross Domestic Product decreased by 0.5 percent compared to the year previous. It was unchanged compared to the third quarter of 2014.
The upcoming jubilee will be held Dec. 8, 2015 through Nov. 20, 2016.